BEIJING — Human Rights Watch has called on Beijing to explain the fate of 20 Uighurs deported from Cambodia a year ago who had sought asylum following deadly ethnic violence in China’s far-western Xinjiang region.
The Uighurs, members of a mainly Muslim minority group who have complained of oppression in Xinjiang, were handed over to China despite their application for UN refugee status, after Beijing had pressed Cambodia for their return.
China said they were wanted in connection with rioting that erupted in July 2009 in the Xinjiang capital Urumqi between Uighurs and China’s majority Han ethnic group that left nearly 200 people dead, according to official tolls. “Uighurs deported to China are at clear risk of torture,” Human Rights Watch’s Asia advocacy director, Sophie Richardson, said in a statement released Friday in New York, where the group is based.
“China’s failure to account for any of those asylum seekers a year after their forced return is extremely worrying.” Cambodia’s decision to deport the Uighurs was quickly followed by a 1.2-billion-dollar aid and loan package from Beijing. China has rejected accusations of a link between the two. The Uighurs had expressed fears of persecution and torture if they were sent home to China, which implemented a massive security crackdown in Xinjiang following the violence. Phnom Penh said the group, which Beijing had labelled as “criminals”, was expelled in line with domestic law.
But the US, the European Union, the United Nations and rights groups deplored the move as an apparent breach of an international convention on refugees. “Both China and Cambodia should be held accountable for their flagrant disregard of their obligations under international law,” Richardson said. “This case is a stark reminder that no country should deport Uighur asylum seekers back to China.”